Thursday, May 04, 2006

Albany DA Tells Drug Story Like It Is

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Albany Times Union

May 4, 2006

A speech by Albany County District Attorney David Soares in Canada attacking U.S. drug policies has drawn criticism from top county law enforcement officials.

U.S. lawmakers, judges and prosecutors know the system doesn't work well, "but they support it anyway because it provides law enforcement officials with lucrative jobs," Soares said Tuesday in a speech at the 17th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm in Vancouver.

"You (Canada) are headed in the right direction," Soares said.

Soares' remarks aggravated an already strained relationship with law enforcement officials in Albany County.

Albany Police Chief James Tuffey said he needs clarification on whether Soares actually intends to enforce the state's drug laws. "When he comes back, he really needs to meet with us to explain," Tuffey said. "It's disingenuous to the officers who go out every day who are not highly paid, contrary to what he said."

Albany County Sheriff James Campbell said, "For 41 years I've been doing this, and it's a slap. I am as angry as I am disappointed."

Soares urged Canadian officials to steer clear of the United States' "ineffective" drug policies, in remarks that echoed criticisms he made of New York's strict Rockefeller Drug Laws during his election campaign two years ago.

His talk drew a standing ovation from among the 1,500 convention delegates representing 93 countries.

Soares' criticism of the 1970s-era Rockefeller Drug Laws were central to his successful 2004 campaign for district attorney. Soares soundly defeated the one-term incumbent, Paul Clyne, a Rockefeller Drug Laws supporter, in a contentious Albany County Democratic primary.

American lawmakers "lack the willpower to reform drug laws despite their ineffectiveness at curbing drug use and crime because 'reform is scary,' " Soares told the Canadians. He also claimed the U.S. penchant for building prisons was an accepted "economic development strategy."

Soares has an ideological ally in Albany defense attorney Terence L. Kindlon, who agreed with his analysis.

"He is to be applauded for speaking the truth in the face of conventional wisdom," Kindlon said. "Our drug policies are irrational, stupid, expensive and destructive."

Kindlon said New York's harsh drug laws are a failure. "They have not stopped drug use, they have pointlessly warehoused in prisons thousands of young minority men, for countless numbers of years," he said.

Sue Curry, the co-director of the Vancouver conference, agreed that rehabilitation, not prosecution and punishment, counters drug abuse and addiction.

Soares "put a spotlight" on the need to take a holistic approach to drug cases, rather than just a moral one, said Curry, a Canadian citizen who lives and works in San Francisco.

"People forget that substance abuse is a health and medical issue," she said, likening it to obesity. "Do we then cut people off from food completely? Or do we try to make their lives better?"

Soares' trip to the conference was paid for by its organizers, said Rachel McEneny, his spokeswoman. She said reporters as far away as London had requested interviews with Soares shortly after the story was posted on the Internet in Canada.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 1996-2006 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

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